Friday, July 22, 2011

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

One of my readers who has been through the construction process herself, gently urged me to tell the good, bad, AND the ugly about house-building. She said it might be helpful for others to understand the stress involved and how to handle it, in addition to sharing all the fun stuff.

So I dedicate this post, which is another installment on the subject of construction-related stress, to Cheryl in British Columbia. (Hi Cheryl—I hope you’re still reading!) In my February "Gaining  House, Losing a Life" post, I wrote about how stressful construction can be on an individual; in this post I talk about how stressful it is on a marriage.

It’s ironic, really, that at the same time we are physically building a structure that is supposed to embody all the hopes and aspirations of our lives together as a couple and a family, we are simultaneously tearing away at the “structure” of our marriage through the stress of the experience itself! And doing so while wielding large power tools. Scary!!

I think—no, I KNOW—we are not alone in this experience. But if you can’t imagine it’s that bad—or if you’re just curious to hear about it, read on. 

As a little background to the post title, when I was a preteen my mom used to subscribe to the Ladies Home Journal magazine, and in picking up an issue one time I stumbled onto the feature called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”.

Written in a He Said, She Said format, the article described the problems that a real couple (names changed) were having in their marriage, and concluded with advice offered by professional marriage therapists. 

August 2011 edition
Knowing and understanding next to nothing about male/female dynamics at that point—I was about 11 years old—I eagerly read the article hoping for clues about the mysterious world of grown-ups. No doubt also looking for some titillating bits as well, I mostly found out that communication between men and women, and within a marriage in particular, was a lot more complicated and confusing that I had ever imagined. Nonetheless, I was hooked. Vicarious thrills for my preteen self!

From one of the "Can...Saved" features in 2007--about remodeling!
Thereafter each month I looked forward to a new issue with another window into the lives of a couple and their problems. I guess I wasn’t the only one enamored, because “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” quickly became one of the most popular columns in the history of the magazine—and is still going strong today (with expansion to television and the web in addition to the original print format).

One of the 1953 editions
The "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" feature was launched in 1953 and clearly tapped into the zeitgeist of the era as America got in touch with its feelings; as the Civil Rights and women’s movements inspired a generation to question the status quo; and as the world changed in all kinds of ways that were astounding at the time and are now taken for granted by many.

Whether I absorbed any useful information about marriage from my reading is hard to say, but those old articles came to mind as I starting writing this post. Especially as we are in the thick of the mother-of-all-stress-factors on a marriage; e.g. the triple-whammy on the stress scale of house construction + money issues + living with in-laws!

So here’s your vicarious peek into our very own episode of “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” focusing on just one of many hot points in our marital drama during the construction of this house!!


 Stress Factor #1: Decision-making
Who does it, and how and when it’s done

SHE said: We end up really stressed out over deicision-making. I like to make decisions after carefully considering all the options, and even then I like to keep those options open until the last minute—I never know if a better choice might be available later!

HE said: I like to make decisions, period. Some research is okay, but then I want to move on. I get frustrated because I think we have agreement on something, only to find out later that you weren’t committed yet.

SHE said: You only THOUGHT I had agreed with you, but actually I just said “Hmm, that could work.” not imagining that you would see our 5-minute conversation just minutes before falling asleep as a final decision point. By the end of the day I’m too tired to start a long discussion about the house, and I don’t like making decisions when I’m tired.

HE said: We don’t have time to talk about every decision at length—there are thousands of decisions to be made in building this house. You have to be willing to decide on the spot or delegate some of them.

SHE said: I can delegate some things, but I get frustrated when you try to make decisions without considering the big picture. I don’t want to choose locations for light fixtures before I even know which fixture I’m buying or what purpose it is supposed to serve. I think haste makes waste in that instance.

HE said: Okay, but that means you need to do your homework way in advance because electrical wiring goes in long before we’ll actually install the light fixture and think about furniture. The electrician can’t wait until you pick out pillows before he installs the wiring!

SHE said: You’re exaggerating. I’m not talking about choosing pillows; just having an idea of the whole room before choosing the individual parts. And why is it MY homework? I thought we were doing this together?

(Imaginary) THERAPIST said: You both have different decision-making styles, and both have merits. But you can help lessen the stress over decision-making, and the arguments that arise, by agreeing in advance which decisions are so important that they must be made by both of you, and which decisions can be delegated to one or the other of you. It would also help to establish set times to try and conduct the majority of your house discussions so that “the house” doesn’t take over your every waking moment. Some decisions will need to be made quickly, but the majority can be scheduled for a time when you are both ready to share viewpoints and then act. It would also be helpful if you wrote down and signed particularly important decisions that you both agree to so there are no misunderstandings. 


Maybe like childbirth, all this pain and suffering will be forgotten after the fact when we are sitting and enjoying our lovely new home. Let’s hope so!

Coming attractions in the posts about the stress of construction:

  • Dealing with Money, LOTS of Money;  
  • Living with In-laws;
  • Communication with Contractors (or Who’s in Charge?); and
  • We Never Have Fun Anymore!

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